A few minutes’ drive from Katanga trading centre in Bugambe sub-county, Hoima district, ushers one into an internally-displaced people’s camp.
This IDP, as it is loosely known, is where at least 200 families who were evicted from their land to make way for the oil waste treatment plant have been living. McAlister, an American company, plans to set up the plant on about 400 acres.
The families say they were brutally evicted by a one Joshua Tibagwa, who claims to have a land title for the disputed land. They added that some of their houses were torched. The residents claim they customarily owned their parcels of land and that Tibagwa acquired it fraudulently.
Now, the residents remain cramped in a camp, living under inhumane circumstances. Access to clean water remains a challenge, with poor sanitary services.
Concerned about these appalling conditions, the members of Parliament on the Parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas visited the area recently. James Aganonga is one of the residents who were evicted from his land. He said that after he was evicted, police arrested him when he went back to pick the property he had left behind. He was taken to Hoima police station, where he was later remanded for one month. He was later granted bail.
“When I was released, I came and joined the camp,” he said.
“Today, every morning I wake up and walk in the village looking for whoever could have work. I normally dig for someone and I am given food in exchange. That is how we survive,” he said.
Many of the evicted residents share the same survival tactics. Sometimes they are helped by NGOs, which give them food handouts. Othieno Okecho, one of the owners on whose land the camp is situated, said: “I saw how these people were suffering. Imagine, on the night of eviction, many of them slept in the cold, under trees, yet it had rained that day. That is why I called them to come and we squeeze ourselves here,” he said.
Asked for how long the evictees can stay on his land, he said he was hopeful government would resettle them elsewhere. As a result of the appalling conditions, Aganonga said many children now suffer from malaria and yet their parents cannot afford to buy drugs. He said many of them had resorted to herbs for treatment.
Locals here believe that they have been let down by their own leaders. In fact, although these people have lived in a camp for two months now, they claim many of their leaders had not even visited them. Julius Bigirwa Junjura, the area Member of Parliament (Buhaguzi), who was part of the group of MPs that visited the area, acknowledged that he didn’t know they were living in a camp under such harsh conditions.
He pledged to table their plight before Parliament. Stephen Birahwa Mukitale, the Member of Parliament for Buliisa county, who led the delegation of MPs, said the circumstances under which people were evicted from their land was an indication of impunity at its best.
He said there was no way people could be evicted from their land without being compensated. He pledged to press government to find a solution to the problem.
History of the land
The residents say that all was okay until Robert Bansigaraho went behind their backs and secretly surveyed and registered the land in his own name. The land was registered in November 2011. In 2013, the residents claimed that they saw a team of surveyors inspecting the land. They later learnt that the land belonged to Bansigaraho.
Bansigaraho later entered into consent judgment at the High court in Masindi with a one Joshua Tibagwa to whom he relinquished his interest. The residents learnt that their land had been surveyed and registered without their knowledge when Bansigaraho started threatening them with eviction notices.
On May 30 this year, at least 53 residents filed a suit at the High court in Masindi, in which they sued Bansigaraho and Hoima District Land Board, through their attorney’s Tugume-Byensi and company aocates. In their plaint, the residents asked court for a declaration that the land belonged to them as customary tenants.
They pointed out particulars of fraud, such as surveying the suit land in secrecy, quietly processing a land title, among others. They also accused the land board of acting fraudulently by allocating Bansigaraho land already occupied by the plaintiffs under customary tenure.
However, an injunction was not granted and instead the acting assistant registrar the High court, Jesse Byaruhanga, issued an eviction order from the disputed land.
The residents have now appealed to the High court, Masindi to quash the order on which they were evicted, and grant them the right to reclaim the land until the main suit challenging the title is heard and determined.
Source : The Observer